Income investors have had a nervous few years as the FTSE 100’s traditional dividend champions — banks and resource stocks — cut shareholder returns in order to conserve capital during tough trading conditions. But, a handful of companies out there are handily topping the FTSE 100 average yield of 3.69%.

A rare bright star

One surprising dividend star is struggling retailer Marks and Spencer (LSE: MKS). Marks and Sparks has kept its dividend fairly consistent over the past five years, but plummeting share prices mean investors now receive a whopping 5.6% yield on their shares. Should investors leap at this high dividend, though?

I wouldn’t suggest it right now. That’s because Marks and Spencer’s new CEO has just embarked on an ambitious four year turnaround plan that will see the company close most of its overseas outlets and shift many of its UK stores away from selling clothes towards food offerings only.

This plan makes considerable sense, as the company’s upmarket food sales have been a rare bright star during a difficult period for traditional retailers. But, income investors need stability in their holdings and until we see whether or not this plan is bearing fruit, shares prices are likely to remain volatile as Marks and Spencer’s department stores face gale-force headwinds due to shifting consumer habits.

A very healthy safety net

Another high-yielding option that has no such problems with falling consumer demand is homebuilder Persimmon (LSE: PSN). Its shares may be down 10% over the past year but it’s not for lack of sales — the company has already completely sold its allotment of homes for 2016 and booked £757m worth of sales for 2017 and beyond.

High sales means loads of cash sitting on the balance sheet, which Persimmon management hasn’t been shy about returning to investors, which is why shares now yield a staggering 6.5% annually. Persimmon can’t escape the cyclical nature of its industry but the company’s conservative outlook offers significant downside protection.

Net cash at year end is forecast to be above £570m, which combined with very high demand for new homes and continue government support for the sector offers a very healthy safety net for Persimmon. A cautious approach to the business, healthy balance sheet, strong margins and good demand for new homes makes Persimmon a solid dividend option for hardier income investors.

A veritable gold mine

Shares of insurer Legal & General (LSE: LGEN) have recovered from a sharp post-Referendum drop but still offer investors a very good 5.8% dividend yield. And, although earnings now cover dividends only 1.38 times over, L&G is in a good position to bolster payouts in the coming years as earnings continue to grow.

Analysts are penciling in a 14% jump in earnings over the next year as L&G consolidates its market leadership in the fast growing passive investing market and wins further mandates to manage auto-enrol pension plans.

Ageing populations in the West may be cause for concern for many companies, but for insurers and asset managers such as L&G, these older consumers will be a veritable gold mine in the decades to come. With strong growth in all major divisions leading to impressive cash generation, income investors may find L&G shares a bargain at 11 times forward earnings.

An under-the-radar dividend favourite

Legal and General has a great track record of increasing shareholder returns, but it can't hold a candle to the 400% rise in dividend payouts over just the past four years from the Motley Fool's Top Income Share.

And, with earnings still covering payouts more than 3 times over, there's plenty of room for this stellar income growth to continue for years to come.

To discover this under-the-radar dividend favourite for yourself, simply follow this link for your free, no obligation copy of the report.

Ian Pierce has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.